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A little over a month ago Djordje Balaševic passed away. Since then I was wondering whether to write this post, given that probably no one here ever heard of him, but finally I decided to do it.
He was a poet, singer-songwriter, and really a wonderful human being. For many he was one of the greatest poets and artists on the territory of ex-Yugoslavia, at least in the period after the ww2. People usually say for artists like him that he was Serbian XYZ, but instead I'll say that imho he wrote some incredible things that if written in English (or Spanish) the world would know as examples of the most magical verses about life, love, and tenderness. It's a pity that a translation can't come near the beauty of the original words. He was a gifted storyteller, had a good sense of humor and was known for witty stories he was telling in between songs when performing. His concerts lasted between three and four hours, often more, so in a certain way his performances were a mix of music, poetry, and stand up comedy. His songs are quite diverse in terms of rhythms, many are slow and melancholic, and many are fast and cheerful. Many of his lyrics and stories told on concerts are actually autobiographic.
The first half of 1990s in the Balkans was marked by the break up of Yugoslavia and wars in Croatia and Bosnia. Balaševic was openly against the war, nationalism and the dictatorship regime in Serbia, at the time when doing so was dangerous. The army tried to draft him and send him to war but he refused, many years later saying "Someone comes to me, to draft me to the army, to send me to attack Osijek [a city in Croatia that was bombed and damaged during the war], a city where entering a concert hall people would stand up to applaud me for how happy they are to see me...so they wanted me to go to tear down Osijek, I could not understand that...in the same manner a psycho will come tomorrow and say 'we're now attacking the opposite side of our street'...I could not accept that". After the war, in 1998 he was the first Serbian musician to perform in Bosnia (in Sarajevo). He held two concert and was under constant protection during his stay there. I believe he was also the first Serbian musician to perform in Croatia after the war (in 2001), and no matter how ordinary this might sound to you now, back then it was a huge thing for people there on both sides. For his fight against the war and for performing in Bosnia and Croatia, nationalists in Serbia hated him and they still in fact do. During the two decades after all these events, in the country where nationalism flourished (or still does) you couldn't hear any of his works on tv, he had very few appearances on tv in general, and ruling authorities would sometimes sabotage his concerts by not allowing the rent of concert venues (all public). Despite all that, his concerts in Serbia were always sold out in a couple of hours even without any previous announcements. When Balaševic passed away people all across former Yugoslavia were paying their respect, and for a few days it seemed that everyone were united under the same roof. For Balkans, it was something extraordinary and tells a lot about him as an artist but above all as a human being. There are some incredible stories from those days but they would need quite some context.
I'm putting below a few out of many of his songs that I like very much, and link to online translations (those are not great but you might get an idea about what you are listening). For more, there is this youtube playlist with a compilation album. I'll start with a verse that shortly before his death was stuck in my head for a while (from the first song below, my free translation):
"Do you see where I am now, in what age Just that you know, strange birds are roaming through my dreams For I am too young to think about death And yet too old to count the stars.
You hear the silence, that sound, the time is passing by It buzzes and threatens through the night, shivering like a sneak Don't start any serious matters now, Just come here to cuddle and be good"
His antiwar song, originally recorded a few years before the war in the Balkans translation
I realise most of my favourite ones are actually slow and melancholic. An interesting thing about Balasevic is that he liked to fool around early in his career, and also adopt other styles in some songs, so there's one that's like Argentinian tango, one in blues mood, one like a waltz, one in a Hungarian mood, and of course one in a Spanish mood. Here's one cheerful, in a certain way this one is a tribute to Michael Brecker (in the original studio version he mentions Chubby Checker in the song)
If you read the whole post or listened any of the songs above, I hope you liked it and I hope I manage to transfer a bit of Balasevic's magic to you.
Glad you put your story here. The Balkan war I followed very closely on the news. And later some refugees from that war become my friends. It was unbelievable for me that 1400 km. From my house this horrible things happen. Good to see and hear that in a insane time there still are sane people. They survive, even if they are no longer with us.
Thanks for posting your poignant and affectionate tribute to Djordje Balaševic, Filip. Your description of the Balkan Wars of the 1990s resonates with me. During NATO's 78-day air war against Serbia in 1999, I was a State Department exchange officer assigned to the Pentagon.
Milosevic had been conducting an ethnic cleansing campaign in Kosovo, displacing more than 700,000 Kosovar Albanians into neighboring Albania and Macedonia. The air sorties, flown primarily by the United States and Britain, brought Milosevic to his knees, preventing further ethnic cleansing and genocide, and opening the door to a UN peacekeeping mission.
I had not heard of Balasevic at the time, and in fact had not heard of him until your posting above. He certainly sounds like great singer and entertainer, as well as a marvelous human being. Again, thanks for posting.
And the end of the fight is a tombstone white, With the name of the late deceased, And the epitaph drear, "A fool lies here, Who tried to hustle the East."
Since then I was wondering whether to write this post, given that probably no one here ever heard of him, but finally I decided to do it.
I'm glad you did. A while back kitarist put a a RIP post for Juanjo Dominguez. I had never heard of him, but thanks to his post I got to discover some great art. Same here. I've added the link you gave to that playlist and will be giving him a listen.
"Anything you do can be fixed. What you cannot fix is the perfection of a blank page. What you cannot fix is that pristine, unsullied whiteness of a screen or a page with nothing on it—because there’s nothing there to fix."
Gerundino, Bill, and Piwin, thank you very much for reading my post and reflecting on it. Piwin, if it happens that you find a song that you particularly like and are curious about the context and lyrics, I'll be happy to talk about it.
Good to see and hear that in a insane time there still are sane people.
I couldn't agree more. Interestingly, these are the same words that Balasevic used to describe Oliver Dragojevic, a legendary Croatian singer (who passed away in 2018 and for me personally is another giant figure in music, and is one of a few along Paco and Balasevic that in a way marked my life forever. It's interesting actually that I find Paco and Oliver to have quite a few things in common. A fun fact, Antonio Serrano played with Oliver on a number of Oliver's concerts (I attended a few), and in an interview to a Serbian newspapers Antonio said for Oliver that he enjoyed playing with him very much and that Oliver was one of the most amazing human beings he ever met).